The Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill that would allow voters in Arlington to abolish two elective offices - treasurer and commissioner of revenue - and replace them with a department of finance under the appointed county manager.
The bill, introduced by Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), already has set off the same kind of controversy that occurred in neighboring Alexandria six years ago.
Despite the opposition of state legislators then from Alexandria, city voters approved the change by a 7 to 1 margin in an advisory referendum, and the General Assembly subsequently changed the city charter to set up the department of finance that now runs Alexandria's financial affairs.
In Arlington, a majority of the county board and its manager, W. Vernon Ford, are pushing for the administrative reorganization; the two officeholders whose jobs would be abolished, Treasurer Bennie L. Fletcher Jr. and acting Commissioner of Revenue Marie Embrey, are fighting it.
Ford and Staumbaugh contend that the two elected positions they want to abolish are so obscure that Arlington residents don't know whom they supposed to call when they have a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the treasurer or commissioner of revenue should handle.
"When people have a problem," Staumbaugh said, "they call the manager or a county board member. Most of them don't know that these elected officials exist."
Ford also wants the change because he claims that an elected treasurer and commissioner of revenue are in a position to prevent smooth management of the county's financial affairs since they do not have to answer to the county board or the county manager.
"As it is now," Ford said, "no one is in charge. We ought to have one person who is responsible to the elected board if we want to have financial management that is responsive to the people."
Ford complains that the independence of the two elected officials has prevented him and his staff from getting up-to-date estimates of some tax revenue and even an up-to-date reading of the county's bank balances.
Ford and other Arlington officials say relations with the independent officials have sometimes been so poor that Embrey's predecessor, Paul H. Beeson, once ordered his staff not to discuss revenue office operations with other county officials outside his presence.
Fletcher acknowledged in an interview, "There is a problem of non-communication sometimes with the manager's staff." However, he added, "Communication is a two-way street. As far as I'm concerned there is no reason for a problem."
Fletcher said he thinks both jobs should be filled through direct election by the voters. "I think this is just a power grab by the manager and the ABC (Arlingtonians for a Better County)," he said. The ABC is nonpartisan but is closely identified with Arlington Democrats. Fletcher is a Republican.
Ford said that if Arlington voters approve the reorganization, he would establish a modern financial management department that would combine budgeting, accounting, purchasing, personal property assessments and fund management.
Many of these functions now are divided among the treasurer, the commissioner of revenue and the county manager's staff. The treasurer, the commissioner of revenue and the county manager's staff. The treasurer generally is responsible for collecting [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to the county, paying bills and investing county funds for short terms.
The commissioner of revenue assesses business license taxes and personal property taxes and audits state tax returns.
Ford says he has high personal regard for the individual elected officials but low regard for their management style. "There is no question about their intergrity," he said, "but they are still using quill pens in those offices."
The two offices are provided for in the Virginia Constitution, but the constitution also allows them to be abolished by statue. Fairfax County consolidated the elected offices into a single department of finances when it adopted its urban county form of government.
The Stambaugh bill provides for a referendum on the question this year. The offices would be replaced by the new department of finance on Dec. 31, 1979.